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Norandino Coffee Mill

Norandino Coffee Mill

Day 2: Piura, Peru

The flight to Piura was uneventful, and we met up with Elmer, the partner of Farm to Roast, and our Peruvian guide for the trip. We met our driver for the trip, Robbie, who warmly greeted us and loaded up our gear into his truck. After introductions and exchanging pleasantries, we departed the airport and headed across the city of Piura to the Norandino coffee-processing factory.

 

This is one part of the trip that was completely new to me. All of the conversation about coffee exportation concentrates on the harvesting and processing at the farm level. Once the coffee is properly dried and packaged at the farm, there is a whole series of steps that need to take place before the green coffee is ready to be packed into containers and shipped to the docks for export. We got to see the process in action, and we walked through the entire plant with the manager of operations.

Tons of coffee wait for final processing.

The coffee at this point has been carefully harvested, processed at the farm, dried to the proper moisture content, and shipped from the remote coffee growing regions, the Norandino Mill. Each coffee bean has a thick parchment that is natural to the bean itself, which needs to be removed before bagging and export to the roasters. This is accomplished by using a series of machines that work at a very high rate of speed to rub off this parchment and “clean” the dust off the beans with massive blowers.

 

 

Click for Video!
The cleaned coffee is immediately dropped into large oscillating tables, which help to sort the coffee away from any contaminates like stones, sticks, coins and other junk that sometimes makes its way into the coffee supply. These tables also work to sort the coffee into different sizes. This table is on a slight angle, and as it shakes, the larger beans move toward one side of the table and the remaining smaller dense beans begin to collect in another corner. These beans shake off of the table at two different points, with the higher quality and more dense beans being kept for the specialty exports, and the rest being used in commercial grade coffee.


This first sorting is important to ensure that there is consistency in the size, density and shape of the coffee being exported. There is still one more concern in the specialty world; the presence of defects or “bad” coffee beans. Defects can occur naturally as part of the growing genetics from that particular coffee bean, or as an error in harvesting (picking a cherry too early or too late). These defects often have negative tasting consequences, and in order for a coffee to make it to “specialty” grade, there must be exceptionally few of these defects present in the green coffee.

 

Coffee sorting video
This would be an incredibly time consuming task to do by hand, but we were fortunate to be able to see some cutting-edge technology being employed at the Norandino Mill. The mill uses optical sorting technology, where hundreds of beans per minute pass by a bright light in a single file line. A computer quickly determines weather that particular bean has the proper shape and size, and gives that single bean a pass/fail. The failures are sorted out of the machine into a holding bin to be sold as second-rate commercial coffee. The passing beans are approved for bagging and shipping to the port. There were about 200 of these light samplers, and each sampler can test hundreds of beans per minute. The process is lightning fast, and incredibly accurate.

 

The final stage of the processing is to load all the passing coffee into a giant hopper, where workers will bag it up in specially sealed bags to ensure that the coffee makes it safely across the ocean to its destination.

 

The Norandino Mill is certified to process Organic, and Fair Trade coffee, and it has won numerous awards for its exceptional processing and milling procedures.

 

We finished the tour by cupping coffee samples in their coffee lab, and learning about some of the different farms in the area, and how the mill keeps careful records of processing, and segregation of the coffee to ensure that the individual farm’s coffees do not get blended together for Direct Trade models such as Farm to Roast. Norandino makes sure that the farms that Chris buys from are properly labeled and sorted so that each lot retains its distinct characteristics and flavors.

 

Seeing this kind of precision and accuracy on such a large scale was extremely impressive. To know that our coffee was coming through a mill with such advanced technology helps to explain why we are getting such a high quality product from these beautiful Peruvian farms.

 

 

We’re in it Now

We’re in it Now

I knew a little bit of Spanish.

 

Two years in high school as a primer, and living in a heavily Hispanic area in New Jersey helped to at least be familiar with some basic language structure and speech patterns. A half-hearted attempt at language learning software a few years back also helped, but I was still far from conversational. Upon arrival, I was barely beyond the basic necessities.

 

The language barrier was not too much of a concern for me; I was traveling with Chris from Farm to Roast. Chris can speak Spanish fairly well, and he has made many of these origin trips before. I knew that when we arrived in Peru, we would be joined by Elmer who is a partner of Farm to Roast, and a native to Peru. Elmer is a certified Q-grader, and owner of a café in his home city.

 

We arrived in Lima late at night after a long flight. While going through Customs, and stumbling over some rudimentary Spanish Q&A from the customs agent, we were turned loose into the city. As Chris gave a cab driver the address to our hotel, I suddenly realized that my firm grasp on English was completely and totally worthless for the next week. This was the first time I had ever been in a country where English was the third language, and most Peruvians don’t speak English at all.

 

We drove to the hotel, past billboards, advertisements, and street signs. The radio in the cab was on a station talking about the weather forecast for tomorrow. The whole city was abuzz with life much like being in downtown Pittsburgh or Cleveland, and not a word of English could be seen. My eyes must have been wide taking it all in because Chris looked over at me and said, “Yeah man, we’re in it now.”

 

The primary goal of this trip was to learn as much as I could about the coffee growing and harvesting process. I had read blogs and books, I had seen the pictures and descriptions, but I wanted to see it for myself; to experience it first hand. I wanted to meet the people who were responsible for the care and attention to detail that is required to produce specialty grade coffee, and to get to know the families of the producers so I could bring their stories back to Youngstown. I wanted to form a real connection to the coffee; a truly relational offering.

 

Another goal was to completely immerse myself in the culture of Peru. As the first time in a Latin American country, I wanted to experience as much of the lifestyle and culture that Peru had to offer. I came with no expectations and I was ready for what may come.

 

We arrived at the hotel, and checked in to our room. After dropping off our bags, we wandered down to the lobby to grab a beer in the hotel bar before it closed up for the night. Chris and I each had a beer from a local Peruvian brewery, and talked about the plans for our flight to Piura tomorrow. A few minutes later, I asked for the check so we could head up to sleep. I paid the tab in American dollars, and got back change in Peruvian Sol. I’d have to remember to exchange the rest of my USD tomorrow morning.

 

Chris was right; we were in it now. I couldn’t wait to get to Piura and get my hands into the coffee growing world.

 

 

Peru Retrospective

Peru Retrospective

It has been a week since my return from Peru, and although it was good to get back to the normal routine of roasting and brewing, a small part of me wishes I was still visiting farms and getting to know the true source of the coffee we work with every day. Being able to see the process first hand, and to interact with the people responsible for the incredible coffee we serve was not only an incredible learning opportunity, but an emotional experience as well. I was prepared to learn all about the coffee growing process; it was the emotional connection with the producers that perhaps was the greatest takeaway for me.

 

Visiting origin has always been a major goal for me since the specialty coffee world grabbed ahold of me almost 10 years ago. To completely understand how the coffee grows, and to see the terrain of the land and remote locations where the plants thrive would be an incredible learning opportunity, and may afford some insight to the roasting process for me. Seeing first hand how the coffee is harvested and prepared for export is to better understand the end product as a whole.

 

Another motivating factor behind origin trips for me is to get to know the person beyond a name printed on a coffee bag. We often promote our coffee based upon origin, farm name, and producer name. We feel that it helps us to connect us all to the story of the coffee, and to show why these offerings are truly unique. We use photographs of these farmers to show that there are real people that cultivate these coffees, and they have families and stories to tell. It tends to make the relationship more real, and the appreciation for the coffee more authentic.

 

Authenticity. Something about this arrangement still felt somewhat artificial to me personally. Every “third wave” roaster around the world would do the same thing. Name the farm, name the producer, and show a picture. Beyond the photo was a whole story that we were telling, from the words of someone else. Our importer would tell us the romantic story and we would parrot that to our customer base. I wanted more, I wanted to experience the story for myself.

 

I expressed this desire to Chris Griffin, founder of Farm to Roast. Chris was a nano-importer from Pittsburgh who was traveling to micro-roasters in the area to promote his current green coffee offerings. Chris and I had a lot in common, we were both had new businesses, and we were the “little guys” in an ocean of big names. We both had a passion for bringing truly exceptional coffee to the area, and to tell the stories of the families who worked so hard to make that coffee available to us.

 

Chris did one thing a little bit differently than many of the other importers who would court us for our business. He visited the farms for himself, and he established relationships with the farmers. These relationships were designed to form long-term commitments between farmers and roasters. In essence, we would support each other as we both grow. This model appealed to me, and to the model that we were trying to grow with Branch Street. The familial nature of this structure hit a chord with us.

 

Not long after we met Chris, I asked him if he would be willing to take me to origin to meet the actual people behind the coffee we were buying. He immediately agreed and told me to plan for August, which was still 6 months away. I immediately updated my passports and began to get ready for what would become my first origin trip.

 

Over the next few weeks, I will delve deeper into the experiences that came to define this week in Peru; the people, the terrain, the knowledge and the relationships that were formed. This trip was an unforgettable experience that has helped to foster a much greater appreciation for every step along the coffee process, and I can’t wait to share these stories with you.